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January/February 2003

Change of Time
Change of Time
OmniTone

On the self-titled release by Change of Time, pianist Russ Lossing, bassist John Hebert and reedist Adam Kolker explore the riches of Bela Bartok's Mikrokosmos. Bartok wrote this sequence of 153 etudes as a teaching aid for his son, but, as the title implies, Mikrokosmos contains a little universe of nontraditional harmony, asymmetric rhythm and other building blocks of Bartok's music. Yet even the more complex pieces in the Mikrokosmos are fairly simple, which means they can serve well as springboards for improvisation.

And there is some deft, beautiful improvisation on this record. Lossing's lines rush and shift and sometimes run in place with both velocity and an engaging simplicity. Kolker picks up snatches of melody and approaches them from every angle he can find, quietly and at times almost furtively, sometimes simply "playing" the intake of air on his reed. Hebert plays ostinatos and spikes the harmonies and keeps everything in motion.

The problem is that Change of Time is full of motion without movement. The improvisations are essentially static, deriving their impact from repeating enigmatic phrases with slight variations and with the utmost concentration. While a moment, or a few moments, of time suspended like this can be seductive, an hour's worth of such moments feels like stillborn invention. Too many pieces are brought to a close with what is supposed to be an epiphanic slowdown; it sounds as if invention has simply failed the players.

Only a few pieces break this mold-the lush title track, for example, or "Lunation," with a gentle pulse from the bass, cascades on the piano and a serene sax line. Change of Time needs more than those pieces to run the gamut of Bartok's genius and to make an album that does more than run in place.

Originally published in January/February 2003
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